If you were Mr Trump what would you do?
It appears that the Turnbull, “don’t you know who I am” Kool-Aid has been binged upon by his cabinet adulators and are suitably infected with the maestro’s faecal touch. Just after President Trump signalled he will spare “the great nation of Australia” from the import levy out comes this finger up yer nose from Trade Minister Steven Ciobo:
The Turnbull government has left open the prospect of supporting World Trade Organisation action by other countries against Donald Trump’s steel and aluminium tariffs – despite an exemption for Australia – while also hosing down speculation it could challenge Beijing’s assertive behaviour in the disputed South China Sea.
It is most reassuring to know the Malcolm Turnbull is sticking his finger up his best mate’s nose. The Turnbull’s recent pilgrimage to Washington with their plastic performances has left the Waffler with an amazing sense of global importance. One of the matters discussed by Turnbull and Trump was the South China Sea issue in which the US sought combined activity between our two nations.
Turnbull government opens door to supporting WTO action against Trump
A day after Mr Trump and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed Australia would not be hit with the punishing new trade barriers, Trade Minister Steven Ciobo indicated the government might still back other affected countries in support of the principle of free trade.
The government meanwhile sharpened its denials that the reprieve involved any quid pro quo gesture from Australia, with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop insisting “there is no further security arrangement” and indicating Australia had no plan to carry out more confrontational patrols in the South China Sea.
Mr Ciobo, asked whether despite Australia’s own exemption the Turnbull government would as a matter of principle support WTO action by other countries hit by the tariffs, said Australia would “practice what we preach on free trade”.
“We need to assess it on a case-by-case basis and we’d look at that,” he told the ABC.
He refused to directly criticise Mr Trump’s much-maligned protectionist moves, however, saying he was “not going to lecture another country about what they do on trade”.
Mr Trump tweeted after speaking by phone with Mr Turnbull that the US was “working very quickly on a security agreement so we don’t have to impose steel or aluminum tariffs on our ally, the great nation of Australia”.
Despite speculation that this could refer to activities such as so-called freedom-of-navigation operations – or “FONOPs” – in the South China Sea, such operations would not require any kind of agreement with the US.
But the US would like Australia to carry out such patrols, which would mean sailing within 12 nautical miles of territory Beijing has unilaterally claimed, including islands it has built, to demonstrate Australia does not recognise Beijing’s claims under international law.
The US has already carried out such operations. But Ms Bishop said the US has a global program of challenging questionable maritime claims, whereas Australia does not.
“We don’t carry out a global FONOPs program as the United States does,” she said. “We back the United States’ right to do that.”
The Royal Australian Navy sails periodically through the South China Sea, though not within the crucial 12-mile zones of territory.
Ms Bishop said Australia would “do what it’s always done, that is traverse the South China Sea and in accordance with international law”.
The government mounted a multi-pronged campaign to secure the exemptions on tariffs. It has for months pitched Australia as a fair and reliable trade and security partner.
Australia has a trade and investment deficit with the US, which is understood to have played a considerable role in alleviating Mr Trump’s sense of grievance.
Australia is heavily involved in supporting US-led operations internationally and spends 2 percent of its GDP on defence – more than most allies – much of which is spent on US-made defence equipment. These are points that have been made to Washington in recent weeks.
However Mr Trump appears to be using the tariffs to leverage concessions from other countries, pressuring for example Canada and Mexico to rewrite the North America Free Trade Agreement.
In a speech in the US on Sunday, Mr Trump lashed out at the European Union, saying they erected “horrific” trade barriers based on environmental and other regulations.
US allies Japan and Europe however are still in talks with American officials. European Union trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said on Sunday that EU and Japanese officials had held a “frank discussion” with US trade representative Robert Lighthizer in Brussels, according to the Financial Times.
Those talks will have to resume next week after failing to yield assurances on whether the EU and Japan would be spared the 25 per cent tariffs on steel and 10 percent tariffs on aluminium.